Working to get hired

Football: College players training in Baltimore hope to impress scouts at the NFL combine and pro days.

February 22, 2005|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Over and over, Paul Jefferson dropped into a three-point stance, launched himself on a silent count and careened around three bright orange cones stacked in an "L" shape as if he were indulging in a child's game.

Only this was no game and Jefferson, 22, is no child. The calculated steps he makes now ultimately could help him make the quantum leap later to the NFL.

This is the serious business - and the mostly unseen side - of the NFL draft. Jefferson, a former fullback at Penn State, arrived at the Velocity Sports Performance center in north Baltimore two months ago eager and dedicated to pursue a career in professional football.

"When I went down to the [Gridiron Classic] in Orlando, each individual meeting with a scout was a job interview and every practice was a job interview," Jefferson said after a recent workout.

"Every workout here is a job interview because this is what we want to do, this is going to be our life. This is a vital time in our lives right now."

Faced with the most important job interviews of their sporting careers, Jefferson and seven other college players have been training in Baltimore since December to improve speed, strength and perhaps draft position.

Five of the eight potential draft picks will move on to Indianapolis later this week for the NFL's annual combine workouts, including defensive end/linebacker Trent Cole of Cincinnati, center Scott Mruczkowski of Bowling Green and linebacker Rian Wallace of Temple.

All eight players are represented by Baltimore agent Tony Agnone's Eastern Athletic Services. In a unique arrangement with Velocity Sports Performance, they have done the bulk of their pre-combine work at the training facility in the Barehills Corporate Center.

"We wouldn't have made the commitment with Velocity if we didn't think it was capable of preparing our guys for the NFL," said Eddie Johnson, an EAS agent. "We did our due diligence to make sure this would be a great fit. And it has been."

Pre-combine camps have become the football rage in the past decade, one of the many cottage industries that have sprung out of the draft. Tom Shaw runs a camp in New Orleans and Chip Smith another in Atlanta, to name two popular workout centers.

Enter Jamie McDonald, who, after 16 years as an investment banker at Deutsche Bank Alex Brown, bought a Baltimore franchise in the Velocity Sports Performance chain. While she seems an unlikely competitor in the satellite world of the draft, she sees the pre-combine workouts as an extension of her strength and conditioning focus here.

"It's not the bread and butter of our center," McDonald said. "Our bread and butter is definitely kids and adults."

In effect, McDonald opened her door to aspiring NFL draft picks when she persuaded Jon Crosby to join her from Atlanta, where he helped launch Velocity's first franchise in 1999 with founder Loren Seagrave. Crosby, with bachelors and masters degrees in kinesiology, also spent two years as a speed coach with the Atlanta Falcons and has worked with several NFL players, including Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe.

Crosby's objective with the athletes this year was to trim their times in the 40-yard dash and assorted agility drills, and improve all-around athleticism.

"We've seen significant improvement," he said. "I think the average has been three-tenths of a second off their 40 times. We work a lot on hip explosion, hip mobility and hamstring flexibility."

As part of his cross-training program, Crosby puts players in a swimming pool once a week, and has them practicing yoga.

"He's a great teacher of speed," said Mruczkowski, whose brother Gene was a backup center for the New England Patriots last season. "Jon taught me a great running style. The most important thing was [adjusting] my start."

Mruczkowski, like Jefferson, found advantages in mastering his footwork on the tedious cone drills. Making bad turns in the "L" drill, for instance, can mean costly fractions of a second.

"You get it down to an exact science," he said. "In the `L' drill, if you come out in a left-handed stance, you save a step. Right-handed, it takes five steps. In a left-handed stance, you take four steps and save a tenth of a second."

Jefferson appeared to master his steps in the drill, but won't be taking them to Indianapolis. He wasn't invited, a circumstance that will make his performance at Penn State's pro day on March 17 that much more important.

"I think not being invited to the combine might be a blessing in disguise," he said. "On my pro day, a lot of these guys will see I'm an athlete."

Jefferson was among the earliest arrivals of the group in Baltimore, missing time only for his trip to Orlando. He estimated he's cut three- to four-tenths of a second off his agility drill times.

"I learned a lot of things working out here that made me technically sound so I'm going to improve my times across the board," he said. "A lot of it's technique and Jon's shown us the right way to run things."

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